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The Origins of Japanese Kanji

If you enjoy Japanese restaurants, you might be interested in learning about the culture. The Japanese language is still rather enigmatic to professional linguists, and there are multiple theories as to the origin of the spoken language. The primary system of written characters is called kanji. These characters are notoriously complicated, and require intensive study to master. Individuals who do choose to study kanji are rewarded by the artistic beauty and poetic nature of the brush strokes.

The Early Written Japanese Language

Centuries ago, the Japanese people relied solely on spoken language. It is thought that they had no written language of their own until Chinese immigrants settled in Japan and brought their own language with them. Archaeologists have dated the earliest known writings to the 5 th and 6 th centuries B.C.E. These writings are found on a sword and a mirror, and they use Chinese characters to indicate proper names. A few centuries later, the Japanese people had become accustomed to using Chinese characters for their own spoken language.

The Evolution of Japanese Kanji

The problem with borrowing Chinese characters for Japanese words is that the two languages are vastly different in syntax and phonology. Over time, the Japanese began modifying the characters to fit their own language better.

The Meaning of Kanji

To a Westerner, the intricate characters look impossibly detailed, and it can seem unimaginable to memorize thousands of them. There are at least 8,000 kanji used in Japan today, but most people get by knowing about 2,000 of them. Although the system is intimidating to Westerners, it’s actually easier than it seems, because characters are combined together in a logical fashion. For example, one would write “train” by combining the characters for “car” and “electricity.”

The Other Language Systems

Japanese kanji is actually just one system of three. The other two systems are hiragana and katakana, which are both collectively referred to as kana. It’s possible to write a sentence that has all three systems.

Immerse yourself in the culture and food of Japan with a visit to House of Genji. Our cocktail lounge and hibachi grill are conveniently located in San Jose. Get in touch at (408) 453-8120 to inquire about reservations.

Kagami Biraki: The Traditional Sake Ceremony

The Japanese people enjoy a number of traditional ceremonies, including kagami biraki. Literally translated, this means the opening of the mirror. Of course, this is just a metaphor. Instead of a mirror, it’s actually a barrel of sake that is opened. Kagami biraki is a celebration that marks a major change in someone’s life, and so it can be held any time of the year. For instance, you could get your friends together at a Japanese steakhouse to celebrate a graduation with this traditional sake ceremony.

Events Associated with Kagami Biraki

Most often, kagami biraki is held to celebrate the New Year. Odd numbers are favored in Japan, and so the New Year celebration is typically held on January 11. Many traditional dojos, which are martial arts schools, will schedule a kagami biraki to usher in the New Year. This traditional ceremony may also be held at weddings and sports events. Companies might hold a kagami biraki to launch a new venture.

History of Kagami Biraki

It’s thought that the first person to hold this ceremony was the fourth Tokugawa Shogun. About 300 years ago, the Shogun gathered together his daimyo—who were influential feudal lords—to break open a cask of sake before a battle. They triumphed in battle, and so the ceremony continued as a good luck superstition.

Types of Kagami Biraki

Kagami biraki can refer to two different ceremonies. The celebration of the New Year traditionally involves the breaking of the kagami mochi. This translates to “mirror rice cake.” Kagami mochi is two rice cakes of different sizes. The smaller cake is placed on top of the larger one. It’s also traditional to top the smaller rice cake with a daidai—a Japanese bitter orange—that has an attached leaf. Kagami mochi is traditionally cooked in a soup on kagami biraki. The other ceremony that involves sake includes the opening of the sake barrel with wooden mallets. Then, masu cups are filled with a wooden ladle, called a hishaku.

Enjoy fine Japanese dining and drinks at a cocktail lounge near you in San Jose. House of Genji has been a beloved favorite of locals for years, and we’re confident that you’ll fall in love with our unique teppanyaki dining experience. Call our restaurant at (408) 453-8120.

An Introduction to Umeshu

“Ume” and “shu” are two separate Japanese words that mean fruit and liquor, respectively, and it’s proof that sake isn’t the only Japanese liquor you should know about. Although, sometimes sake and ume are mixed when making umeshu. It takes a long time to make umeshu, but the flavor makes it worth the wait. Read ahead if you’d like an introduction to umeshu.

There are certain types of alcoholic beverages that are best consumed as a dessert rather than while enjoying a meal, and umeshu falls into this category. Umeshu has a sweet taste to it due to the added sugar, and if you’re not from Japan or familiar with the culture, the taste might seem unusual. Ume’s natural acids make umeshu acidic and sweet, and the umami in ume gives the drink a strikingly unique taste. The amount of alcohol may be anywhere between five and 20 percent, depending on the umeshu you choose.

The best way to try umeshu for the first time is at the best Japanese restaurant serving San Jose. House of Genji offers hibachi, sushi, and other types of Japanese dining. Call us at (408) 453-8120 or browse our website to see what we can offer.

How is Matcha Made?

Matcha is a strong form of green tea that you can find at Japanese restaurants. It comes in a powder, and it’s known for its vibrant green color. Watch this video and learn how matcha is made.

Matcha is made from camellia sinensis. When new chutes sprout, growers put tarps over them to block out most of the sunlight they’re exposed to. This is done for about three weeks at a time and helps the flavor and the calming effect. Next, the leaves are steamed and dried, and then the stems and veins are taken out. Tencha, which is what is left, is then ground into a powder and can be mixed with hot water to make the tea.

House of Genji is a Japanese restaurant serving San Jose. If a cocktail lounge that includes Japanese dining sounds right for you, give us a call at (408) 453-8120.

What Every Visitor Should Know About Etiquette in Japan

It’s important to mind your manners when you’re immersing yourself in a foreign culture. Whether you’re going to Japan or just going to a Japanese steakhouse for dinner, it’s nice to be familiar with proper etiquette. If you want to make a good impression, read on for a look at what every visitor should know about etiquette in Japan.

Eating on the Go

In the United States, it’s perfectly normal to see someone with a slice of pizza in one hand and a cell phone in the other walking down the street. In Japan, however, this is not a usual occurrence. Rather than eating on the go, it’s customary to save the food until you get to your destination. You might even see people drinking their whole bottle of water or soda before walking away from the vending machine. Eating and drinking isn’t even allowed on Japanese public transportation.

Chopstick Use

It might take some time to get used to using chopsticks—mastering this skill doesn’t come easy to everyone. No matter how skilled or clueless you are when it comes to using chopsticks, the way you set them down actually makes a big difference in terms of etiquette. Instead of leaving them sticking straight up out of your food, lay them flat across the bowl or use a chopstick rest. Passing food from one plate to another using chopsticks is considered disrespectful as well, so if you’re going to share food, use the back ends of your sticks.

Finish Your Dish

It’s against Japanese culture to waste, especially when it comes to food. If you visit Japan or dine in a Japanese restaurant, don’t pick parts of your meal out and put them to the side. You can also score some extra etiquette points by trying some of every dish.

Now that you know how to practice the proper etiquette, try out your manners at a Japanese restaurant serving San Jose. Call House of Genji at (408) 453-8120 or look at our website if you’re interested in enjoying some fine Japanese dining.

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